I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
When you spend a couple of decades covering sports, you really don’t root for teams – you root for people.
So when the Montreal Alouettes defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-24 to win the 110th edition of the Grey Cup in Hamilton on Sunday, there was a part of me that was happy for the likes of Cody Fajardo, Shawn Lemon and Tyson Philpot.
All three Alouettes have always been good to this agent, and as a result, you like seeing them have success. All three also had to overcome some serious individual adversity in the past year which made their success on Sunday even sweeter.
While we are on the topic of adversity, we also have to point out that no one gave the Alouettes a chance in the Grey Cup. Well, no one other than TSN analyst Davis Sanchez.
After all, Montreal’s 38-17 win against the Toronto Argonauts in the Eastern Final was regarded as a fluke with everyone pointing out the nine Argo turnovers in that game and that the Blue Bombers were not about to be as generous.
The critics claimed that Fajardo couldn’t hit the deep ball and that he was incapable of winning the game for the Als if so required.
Besides, Fajardo was 0-9 in head-to-head match-ups versus Winnipeg’s all-world quarterback Zach Collaros.
Fajardo would silence all of those critics by engineering a seven-play, 83-yard drive that culminated in Philpot hauling in a 19-yard strike to give Montreal the win with 0:12 remaining in the game.
Facing a 2nd and 18 at the Montreal 47 with 1:07 left in the game, Fajardo scrambled for 13 yards to give the Als a chance with a 3rd and five at the Bomber 50 with 0:38 remaining. Fajardo then went for it all in hitting Cole Spieker with a 31-yard bomb down the left sideline to give the Alouettes a 1st and 10 at the Winnipeg 19.
The very next play, the Bombers sent the house with an eight-man blitz but the Als did a great job in picking it up and allowed Fajardo enough time to find Philpot in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
When it was all said and done, Fajardo had gone 21 for 26 passing with 290 yards and three touchdowns and was named as the game’s Most Outstanding Player.
It was redemption for the 31-year-old who was jettisoned by the Saskatchewan Roughriders after a dismal 2022 season with many questioning his ability to be a starting quarterback in the CFL.
Prior to his stint in Saskatchewan, Fajardo was a B.C. Lion in 2018 and was the team’s third-down specialist but was not re-signed when Ed Hervey took over as general manager. I actually remember one of my former colleagues at TSN going on a lengthy tirade once regarding Fajardo’s inability to convert a couple of key third downs in one game.
Fajardo’s main claim to fame in B.C. was being the team’s best dresser on road trips – to the point where teammates fashion would be judged by the “Fajardo Scale” from one to ten.
From being an ineffective third-stringer in B.C. to being punted out of Saskatchewan to nobody believing he could win a game for his team on the biggest stage, Fajardo persevered and can now be called a Grey Cup champion.
Lemon’s story was also about perseverance.
The 2022 Western nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player award after a 14-sack season with the Calgary Stampeders, Lemon hit the free agent market and signed with the B.C. Lions.
One week into training camp in Kamloops and Lemon was released in what most considered to be a shocking move.
Lemon was caught so off-guard that he actually thought he was being ‘punked’ when told of the news.
Despite his impressive resume, there were no callers when Lemon hit the open market.
The 35-year-old had to wait almost two months before the Alouettes signed him to a contract on July 24.
Lemon, along with another late season addition in linebacker Darnell Sankey, took the Als defense to another level. When Lemon signed with Montreal, they were 2-3. They went 9-4 and then won three straight playoff games to win it all. When Sankey signed on Sept. 11 after a winning an XFL title with Arlington, he told his Montreal teammates they wouldn’t lose another game. They didn’t – going on an incredible nine-game run. On Sunday, the pair combined for 11 tackles and two sacks in the Grey Cup win.
Then there’s Philpot, the son of former B.C. Lions running back Cory ‘Quick Six’ Philpot, who won a Grey Cup as a running back with the 1994 Lions.
The 23-year-old product of Seaquam Secondary in Delta, B.C. had his own adversity to deal with this season when a severe hamstring injury at the start of training camp sidelined him for the first five games of the season.
Yet on Sunday, it was Philpot who would be Fajardo’s favorite target as he hauled in six catches for 63 yards including the game-winning touchdown and earned the Most Outstanding Canadian Player award in the process.
In the end, the perseverance of all three paid off.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.